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For the first time, the numerous flows of renewable raw materials and processes in the Flemish economy have been mapped and their economic value for Flanders has been estimated. The study was done by ILVO and VITO at the request of Flemish minister Jo Brouns (Work, Economy, Innovation & Agriculture) and his predecessor.
Editorial office / Antwerp

The study shows that the bio-based economy grew twice as much as the general Flemish economy between 2014 and 2018. The food industry remains the main consumer of biomass, but in second place is the chemical sector, which traditionally relies heavily on fossil raw materials. The chemical industry converts biomass into large volumes of fatty acids, fertilisers, bioethanol and biodiesel.

Closed cycles

Interestingly, this study makes it clear that the demand for biomass in Flanders far exceeds the supply (98% of which comes from agriculture and horticulture). It is therefore important to consciously choose for which applications the valuable biomass will be used. One useful framework for this is the principle of closed material cycles. The aim is to use as little ‘new’ primary biomass as possible by making products last as long as possible through reuse and recycling. A second framework is the cascade principle in which human food, then feed and only in last place energy production stand as meaningful applications for biomass.

In reality, this is not always the case, says VITO researcher Dieter Cuypers: “In the free market, economic logic plays a role: the highest bidder wins and that is not necessarily the most sustainable one. Each project should be evaluated critically and with systemic glasses so that investments in the bioeconomy effectively contribute to a more sustainable world.”

Meaningful valorisation

According to the researcher, it is also important not to focus one-sidedly on climate and on replacing fossil raw materials with any biomass, but to look at all the valuable components that the various biomass streams contain and choose the most meaningful valorisation pathway for them: “Biomass is a broad concept and chemically contains a wealth of interesting atoms. You have carbon but also protein, phosphorus, nitrogen, etc. It is a waste to reduce that richness to carbon atoms for biofuel and plastics.”

The bioeconomy study will be repeated annually from now on. This will enable targeted, stimulating policies to be implemented and their impact evaluated.

Read more on ILVO’s website.

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